A MUST READ – Kevin Rennie: Judge Decides Disabled Kids Not Worth Teaching

Hartford Courant columnist, blogger, lawyer and former legislator, Kevin Rennie, has a MUST READ commentary piece in the Hartford Courant today about Judge Moukawsher’s outrageous and mean-spirited attack on Connecticut children who require special education services.

Reposted below, you can read and comment on Kevin Rennie’s piece at:   http://www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-rennie-ct-school-moukawsher-disabled-0918-20160915-column.html

Kevin Rennie writes;

Compassion has been declared unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge. Our leaders refuse to condemn his brutal assault on those with disabilities. Delusions rule as Connecticut enters an age of shame.

Thomas Moukawsher, a judge, Malloy appointee and former Democratic organization foot soldier, read his meandering, sloppy decision on public school funding on Sept. 7. Then, otherwise comprehending people seemed not to understand what they had heard. The plaintiffs, a coalition of municipalities and education organizations, had sued for billions in new state spending but did not get it. They nevertheless declared victory.

Disclosure: I knew Moukawsher well when he was a banking lobbyist, during his one term in the legislature and for several years after that. I have not spoken to him in nearly 20 years.

The organizations in the coalition have maintained an indecent silence on what the decision says about providing an education for 15 percent to 17 percent of public school students with special needs. The reader will struggle to find an island of thought in the decision’s sea of bilge, but there is one on the subject of people with disabilities: It is irrational and unconstitutional, Moukawsher declaimed from the bench, to continue to provide an eduction for many of them.

The 20th century taught us that when societies turn on people with disabilities, they often do not stop there. They inflict misery on others and everlasting shame on themselves. Connecticut must not join them in the darkness.

If you want to know what an attack on freedom under the rule of law looks like, peruse the education funding decision. Special education was not an issue the plaintiffs raised. The attorney general, defending the state, warned Moukawsher off the issue in a trial brief, but to no avail. Children with disabilities were in his sights and he fired away. Children with more than one disability receive particularly cruel attention.

Schools under this misbegotten decision will have no obligation to educate children with disabilities they deem to have “a minimal or no chance for education.” This insidious missile cannot go unanswered in the Constitution State. There are no specifics on how or which children with special needs are to be denied access to our schools. What we do know is that a judge with a dark, Trumpian view of humanity is abusing his authority and inviting broad violation of federal protections.

Harry Truman explained America’s greatness in a sentence: “We believe in the dignity of man.” Not in Connecticut if this social Darwinian decision is allowed to stand. Consider the implications. The law requires us to educate children who arrived here illegally. Most of us have no quarrel with that. Do we want, however, to live in a state where illegal immigrants are welcomed to our schools but the disabled are barred at the door?

The heroic Helen Keller observed, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” That describes the Moukawsher decision. I mention Helen Keller because, when she was 19 months old, she lost her hearing and sight to what was probably meningitis. A teacher, Anne Sullivan, led Miss Keller out of the darkness with their unique system of spelling words with their hands.

Helen Keller with her multiple disabilities went on to graduate from Radcliffe College. Through her writing, advocacy and love of humanity, Miss Keller became one of the world’s most admired people. Our own Mark Twain, one of her most devoted admirers, said, “She is fellow to Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Homer, Shakespeare and the rest of the immortals.”

There would be no place for Helen Keller in Moukawsher’s Connecticut, other than in the shadows of isolation. The court opinion misses an essential benefit of special education that is bestowed on the other students. Their contact with students with disabilities provides daily lessons in Harry Truman’s dignity of man. Lessons that last a lifetime and lift our society.

It should not be too much to expect a judge to understand that. But Moukawsher’s poisonous elitism reveals him as bent on banishing thousands of disabled from our public education system and consigning them to undisclosed, likely isolated, locations. Is this anyone’s, other than one judge’s, idea of what 21st-century Connecticut should be?

  • R.L.

    I have a very large percentage of SPED students in my classroom, always. Many of these students are in way over their head and, frankly, shouldn’t be in the class. They should be learning the math of how to balance a checkbook or they should be learning how to interact in an acceptable manner with others. Some people will never “master” algebra II. In Hartford we have to teach to the level of the child, not the expectations of the class. That is the directive. How can you give a kid credit for learning how to add in an algebra class and give them credit for the algebra class? That is the absolute norm in Hartford. That is why our graduates are so deficient. When you teach a full class with generally 50% (it would be more if the district wasn’t afraid of over-identifying) of the class being either ELL, SPED, or both with little to no “push in”, the other students are absolutely being denied their right to a free and public education. At least to the level of what would be considered a “quality” education. The curriculum becomes irrelevant. Throw in those who are behaviorally dysfunctional and are in need of serious psychological support, and you have a zoo. Hence, you have your poor schools throughout the country in crisis. I’m not saying that resources shouldn’t be allocated to help those at a disadvantage to be able to learn to a point where they can achieve some sort of personal success. What I’m saying is that those who are on, or could be on, a more academic track (YES I SAID TRACK, tracking works!) should not be denied simply because we want to pretend everyone has the same capacity for learning. Full inclusion is a disaster! Why do you think charters and magnets sound good to people? They aren’t escaping a bad school necessarily, they are escaping a dis-eased portion of their community. The dis-ease being poverty and the actual physiological effects it has on the brain. People look to charters and magnets because they discriminate against those who have IEPs or don’t speak English. It’s systemic tracking.
    Fixing education would not be hard. Everyone should have the opportunity. However, those who desire the opportunity should not be sacrificed to those who refuse the opportunity and are put into the same classrooms. Those who need services should be provided those services, but not at the expense of those who don’t require services. Anyone should be able to take any class, just pass (without the summer school end-around) the prerequisite. I believe this is more of the way it was before the dark days of Adamowski. A comprehensive high school offers much more choice than a smattering of small academies and magnets offering classes based on a theme. All of those new school buildings must have been very expensive. I bet we lost a lot of our services to them.

    • R.L.

      Furthermore, People who have no experience in the classroom should not be making policy. Politicians, and school administrators are politicians, have created this mess in education. They’ve made teaching a game of minutia, about producing data that can be twisted to say just about anything a person wants it to say. If it looks good on paper, it doesn’t matter what it looks like in person. Nobody comes to see it for themselves anyway. If any “person of importance” ever does come to our school, they get “the tour”.

      There is more concern in education with dotting Is and crossing Ts than with focusing on the classroom. You know, where the rubber meets the road. I believe that the SPED “support” in our school spends more time writing IEPs and having PPTs than they spend actually serving students. It sure is a rarity to see them in my class. The educational bureaucrats, at least in my left behind, neighborhood, high school have created a system that is absolutely dysfunctional. They mess things up, and we, the teachers are somehow supposed to wave our magic differentiation wands and make it all better.

      Any new wave of reform that comes should come with a provision. All administrators, all the way up to Malloy (his policies sure have done a number on our school and the students that go there), should have to substitute teach in the neediest schools in their district for at least five days. No pomp, no special announcements, just go in and teach a lesson. Take home the student work you get back, the little that comes back, and review it. You will be dismayed. Then, think about the problem and come up with legitimate solutions. Not solutions that satisfy your corporate donors, but solutions that benefit the kids you would actually have to expose yourself to. Any administrator anywhere who is reading this can take this as a challenge.